Including the remote, the Chord Hugo 2 retails for $2,379. Purchases can be made via a local dealer in your area searchable via the Chord Website. However an little online digging and I found Audio46 as the only Amazon-Payment capable vendor in my area.
Furthermore, I want to thank both Chord and the members of Head-Fi who helped put this tour together, the following thoughts are my own and I was not compensated for them!
What I like about the Hugo 2 build is the weight. It's heavier than it looks which makes me grip it a little tighter when I pick it up. For portable products I like something that has a solid in the hand feel. Super light, super thin, "air" products have never meshed well with me. I always feel like I'm going to lose or crush them. That sense of weight translates over into the implementation of the analog out puts. Each output had distinct grip on my cables with minimal wiggle and just the right amount of resistance when unplugging the cables. As I carried the Hugo 2 around my home during my listening impressions, the cables stayed put.
Chord's unique ball bearing buttons and roller-ball volume adjustment were memorable. While I was not a fan of how much play the individual ball buttons had, I did enjoyed the ease of motion from the volume ball. Unlike the ball bearing buttons, which rattle around when you interact with them, the volume ball had a smooth upward and downward motion. There was no excessive movement or resistance, adjustments to the volume were comfortable. Both minor and major adjustments to the volume were possible with the ball, and I never over shot my intended listening levels. The include remote had a good weight as well, each of the buttons had excellent resistance alongside an audible click. I found my self more often using the remote than the top mounted buttons.
Aside from the noisy ball bearing buttons, the Hugo 2's USB inputs also proved less than ideal. In fact the entire left flank of the chassis on my demo unit suffered from obvious wear and tear or simply adequate build quality. The USB inputs for data and charge had far to much play in them, and there were visible gaps in the chassis around them.
Additionally, the demo unit I had operated at exceedingly hot to the touch temperatures. During the time I had it, I was unable to comfortably keep it on charge for the required 24 hours need to activate desktop mode. Seeing as it was a product I spent equal time with in my hands, as on my desk, I ran the unit almost exclusively on the battery. If I needed to charge it I was only comfortable charging and listening for 2 hours. Usage while charging beyond that 2 hour time frame resulted in the demo unit I had getting hot enough to leave a slightly darkened warm spot on my wood desk for around 20-30 minuets. Touching it wasn't painful, but hot enough to instill a sense of caution. Hence-forth my impressions Hugo 2 were completed from battery operation only. Running exclusive on battery power, I was able to achieve an average of about 7 hours of playback time.
Functionality is straight forward on the Hugo 2, it accepts Optical, 3.5mm Coax, USB Mini Input and Blu-tooth digital in. It features 6.5mm, 3.5mm and L/R RCA analog output, functioning as a head Amp via a series of transistors in the DACs analog output stage and offering a fixed line out. While I noticed no change in the sound quality moving in-between the different analog outputs, the digital inputs each offered significant changes to the overall sound quality.
Specs of the Unit are as followed from Chord's Website:
Additionally, kindly take a moment to refresh your self on the meaning of terminology I use to describe sound, also please note that my Audio GD NFB10ES2/Hifiman HM901->PicoPower serve as my current reference point, as such I've grown accustom to a brighter sound signature from my Dac.
As such, I found the overall sound quality signature of the Chord Hugo 2 to be;
- Does not exaggerate
- Presents a strong from the body timbre
- Excellent Micro Detail
- Less ambient noise or lacking emphasis of macro detail
- Cleaner more balanced transients and resolve of timbre
- Smooth Dynamics
- Micro dynamics are excellent
- Macro dynamics are adequate
- Black Background
- Very little noise
- Internal Amp has some mid range warmth/bloom
- Softer relaxed presentation
- Intimate imaging
- Excellent depth and airy sound, with a slightly forward mid-range
This basic presentation does not change regardless of the digital input, what the digital inputs changed were the overall blackness of the background and the precision and size of the image as a whole. The worst digital input into the Hugo 2 was still phenomenally black compared to using the same input into my NFB10ES2.
Starting with Optical from my iRiver H140, I found this input to be atrocious, the highs were very hard and the imaging and resolve were hazy. If the world ends and all I have IS my iRiver H140... I'll be content but otherwise there's no situation in which this input is preferential.
USB Input was a BIG step up from Optical. Starting with USB Mobile, there were immediate gains in imaging and noise. USB Mobile presented a more clearly defined image presented again'st a blacker background which allowed transients to resolve more fully. Though USB Mobile still had some emphasis up top, not as bad as Optical but still not perfect.
Moving to USB Desktop, I ran ASIO Output from Foobar 2000 into the Chord Hugo 2. The image as a whole was even sharper, there was even LESS noise than USB Mobile without the touch of emphasis up top. Which resulted in marginal improvements to the resolve of micro detail.
With regards to the analog output, I did find the internal amp of the Hugo 2 had a touch of mid mange bloom to it, when testing it with an LCD XC, my HE 4 and my Nhoord Red V1. The Line Out was marginally cleaner, though the only benefit I found to using the line out was for more power or to pair your headphone with another amp for a better dampening factor.
I actually enjoyed the LCD XC when pair'd with the Hugo 2. A lot of the LCD XC's weakness were compliment or masked over by the strength's of the Hugo 2. Though I was using a WyreWires Red Cable, as the lender who allowed me to barrow this didn't like the stock option and opt'd for me to hear his LCD XC with only after market options!
In particular when enjoying Igor Levit's Take on Aria, the Hugo 2 LCD XC pairing had an excellent mix of tactility and nuance for the piano piece, the more intimate sound of the Hugo 2 help'd give the LCD XC just a little more low body presence.
In Miles Davis "So What" the often overly metallic presentation of the horns on the LCD XC, was more natural. A touch of warm vibrato in the horns especially became more apparent. The softer sound of the Hugo 2 pair'd beautifully with the amazing solid planar bass and cup resonance of the XC. In some tracks, I felt there was a lack of grip, but overall the Hugo 2 brought a much needed relaxing sound to what is other wise a very SHOUTY headphone.
I was shocked at how well the Hugo 2 drove the HE 4 in particular! Ultimately though, the internal amp's lack of power combined with a softer presentation from the DAC it self robbed the HE 4 of the super exciting character I appreciate it for. Losses though in tactility, low end texture and speed were offset by gains in timbre and transient resolve.
This pairing was by far my favorite! The Nhoord Red V1 is a DIY Grado style headphone. Featuring lower bass extension than a typical Grado. The overall sound of this can in particular is most similar to a Grado RS1i. That said, the headphone has a tendency to ring a little, the Hugo 2 presented both a beautiful warm mid range that DIDN'T have the ring I was used to! Overall for this Grado Style headphone, the combination was nothing but pleasant! More so than any of my current in house rigs sadly...
Speaking of, I was very impressed with how the Hugo 2 paired with my ZMF Eikon and Garage 1217 Project Ember II. This was another really beautiful pairing I'd like to try and forget!
Though the BEST sounding combination was from the Hugo 2 was with the Head Amp Pico-Power and my HE 4. The sound was harder, more exciting with the same improvements to timbre and resolve but without a lot of the exaggeration I'm used to! But the combined price of the two units, upwards of $2800 MSRP, makes a situation I doubt any one will realistically find them selves in 2017. As a hard to drive inefficient open back planar from 2011 is not a realistic portable headphone. In the last 6 years, there have been an influx of very efficient open backs as well as powerful portable products to pair them with.
Finally, I took the time to compare the Hugo 2 to a few of my existing Rigs.
Starting with comparisons to my NFB 10ES2. For these comparisons I had the Hugo 2 fed via USB with ASIO Out, and my NFB10ES fed with Coax from a Schiit Etir fed with ASIO Out.
In short, the Hugo 2 Dac section had every edge in it's presentation of timbre. Being very true and focused on the music it self, in contrast yo the NFB10ES2 had to much emphasis on macro detail it often simplified transients. By doing so it creates a great deal of excitement and energy, which when pair'd with it's more expansive sound stage is impressive... but ultimately a little distracting at times. The Hugo 2 was more intimate with a less exaggerated sound and a stronger focus on the music it self, macro detail took a big step back. The combination of a blacker output of the Hugo 2 and more intimate imagine result in micro detail taking a step forward! The only flaw of the Hugo 2 compared to the NFB10ES2 is it's more intimate imaging can be marginally less precise and it sounds very flat. The sound of the Hugo 2 presents minimal vertical space, where as the NFB10ES2 presents an image that has more room up top and down below and all around. In some cases it's closer to reality, though more often than not it sounds over defined.
Moving to amplification, the NFB10ES2 only had an edge when more power was needed. So with the harder to drive HE 4 the NFB10ES2 presented a more consistent sound, where as the Hugo 2 while offering better timbre, because of the lack of power was also at times very hazy with it's imaging and presentation of the low end. The Hugo 2 lacked an accurate sense of time or speed with the HE 4 as well when compared to the NFB10ES2. Other wise, for dynamics and more efficient Planar's the Hugo 2 output was blacker with a less exaggerated more natural sound.
I paired both the LCD XC and my Nhoord Red V1 with the balanced out of my LH Labs Geek Out v2+ for a comparison to the Hugo 2.
Ultimately, while using the white filter on the Hugo 2 and the Green Filter on the GOV2+, I found the Hugo 2 to improve on every aspect of the GOV2+. The two shared a similar sound signature, but the Geek Out V2+ sounds a bit noisy, cramped and exaggerated compared to the Hugo 2. The GOV2+ often simplified lot of transient information like the NFB10ES2, especially in comparison to the Hugo 2, which more clearly resolved audible textures such as the vibrato in the release of many of instruments.
This comparison was a real eye opener for me, I haven't spent much time with my HM901 since I started working full time and haven't had a need for a transportable system that I can listen to. I'm either at home, or on my feet moving, a situation in which if I'm going to drop something I'd like it to be pretty cheap. Though I'm starting on my second degree here in a few days so I'll once again be in front of my laptop away from home for longer period's of time. A situation that's perfect for a transportable dac/amp combo!
In terms of sound the HM901 [Vintage Filter] fed into the Pico Power traded blows with the Hugo 2. The HM901 Pico Power combo had more precise imaging, an equally black background, a smidge of emphasis on macro detail, is marginally less resolving of micro detail but had stronger more clearly defined dynamics and a better presentation of time. It's only flaw being that it can be a bit over sharpned, or over defined. The Hugo 2 while resolving micro detail better, presents more intimate imaging and sounds a touch romantic. It's not as dynamic, and doesn't adapt as quickly to changes in tempo either, very exciting passages of music lacked some energy in comparison to the HM 901 Pico Power combo, especially with Planars. While more natural sounding, it's sometimes a bit to relaxed in comparison to the HM 901 Pico Power combo.
Ultimately different genres play better on one than the other, I grew up listening to a lot of live jazz bands. Listening with the HM901 Pico Power takes me back to my days sitting in the grass listening, the energy they presented and their ability to change and adapt around very unique time signatures always impressed me. The HM901 Pico Power combo embodies that energy, that excitement, that audible sense of speed. Where as on the flip side, my father owned a 12 String Gretsch guitar when I was a kid, listening to Chet Akins or any Spanish guitar Sonata's through the Hugo 2 reminded me of listening to my dad play at night before bed. The sense of intimacy and naturalness is very real, where as the HM901 Pico Power sounds a bit exaggerated with this genre and others like it.
The real question I have now is how does the HM901 Pico Power compare to my NFB10ES2... that's one I'll have to explore that at a later date.
Our last comparison is the NFB10ES vs the Hugo 2 when fed into my Project Ember II driving the ZMF Eikon.
With the Hugo 2, the Ember II and ZMF Eikon were breathtaking to listen to. The Eikon's sound signature is music focused, with a black background, a solid low to mid range response and a tapered top end. It does an excellent job of resolving just enough macro detail to keep things interesting, but always places emphasis on the music, micro detail just pops with this combo! The Hugo 2's DAC output embodies much the same traits, minus the top end tapering. It was ultimately this combination that allowed me to grasp just how exaggerated my reference SABRE 9018 DAC really was. Still, moving from the stunningly beautiful sound of the Hugo 2 back to the more exaggerated NFB10ES2 did give the Eikon a bit more dynamic response with a larger more open sound stage at the expense of total resolution and clarity. Even worse there is a touch of noise on the analog output of the NFB10ES2, so listening above an average of 84 dBs I lose even more resolution. Thankfully, my reference listening level is 85 but still the lack of headroom on the NFB10ES2 get's annoying.
For the price, I don't feel the Hugo 2's sound quality compares well to dedicated desktop solutions. It runs too hot and isn't priced competitively at $2379 MSRP. Though it's closer to and sometimes under $2000 if your comfortable buying second-hand from reputable sources. I feel it compares well to my own portable DAP solution, especially considering that 4 years ago I spent $1500 on a portable dedicated High-Fidelity Digital Audio Playback System.
Being my first Hi-Fi purchase I paid MSRP for my HM 901 back in 2014, an it too suffers from the same excessive play in it's buttons. Plus doesn't even have a remote, and not only that but it's limited to just playing music from the SD card loaded into it. While it fit my life style back then, it doesn't fit into my own an increasingly mobile life style now. The Hugo 2 can plug into my phone allowing me to listen to music, and still take phone calls without having to even remove my headphones. Even better, starting this year my cellular provider allows me to make and receive phone calls through my existing mobile number via a web app on my laptop. With the Hugo 2 and ASIO Output in FooBar 2000, I can be on campus and have access to my music library, have the flexibility to switch right into a YouTube video in my browser, watch and listen to material related to my course work, take a Skype call with my boss or a traditional call from my wife, without having to unplug anything. The Hugo 2 integrates into my life style with all of my existing tech, as opposed to a standalone DAP which serves as a separate system just for music. Thus isolating me from my other technology, forcing me to pick ONE system to listen to. Fortunately my Geek Out v2+ does the same, integrating with all of my Tech, but doesn't offer near the level of quality as the Hugo 2 or my HM901 PicoPower combo. Which means I have to compromise sound quality in exchange for flexibility and convince. In my eyes, based on how I live my life now and moving into the future the asking price for the Hugo 2 is validated. As it does more than my standalone DAP without compromising quality.
In conclusion I can confidently recommend the Hugo 2 as a transportable solution. It's value is in it's portability, if your need a portable solution the Hugo 2 is an excellent choice. It's input flexibility, uncompromising phenomenally natural sound, well built included remote, and surprisingly powerful internal amp allow it to integrate into a variety of portable playback systems. It's a product that integrates well into the lifestyle of some one who's traveling often, either in the air or on the road. Student, working professional or in my case both, it's a one box solution that plugs right into what ever graphic interface your using and has plenty of power to drive most high-fidelity headphones. It's definitely a plug, play, sit back and enjoy experience. Presenting a happy union of convenience and superb sound quality!